BlackBerry maker pulls out the stops to court app developers
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For many suitors, flirting and romance involves a candlelit dinner, a walk on the beach, or perhaps a glass of champagne and some roses.
For Martyn Mallick, the tools of seduction are conference halls, technical seminars and some work-in-progress smart phones. And a slick little musical number as the lights go down.
Mallick is vice president of global alliances and business development for BlackBerry maker Research in Motion. The objects of Mallick’s attention? App developers who can help turn the company’s upcoming BB10 smart phones into a fully functioning mobile ecosystem.
Mallick — and fellow RIM vice president Alec Saunders — have been pursuing them around the globe. Thursday, that pursuit brought Mallick to Toronto, as close to RIM’s home turf in Waterloo as the BB10 Jam world tour will get.
As a room packed with developers waited for Mallick to take the stage at a downtown hotel, a screen showed him playing bass in a RIM-only band singing a cover version of Tom Petty’s Waiting is the Hardest Part, complete with requisite shots at the competition.
“Waiting is the hardest part. iOS and Android are no good for you. Money is made by few,” Saunders belted out in the video, with Mallick strumming away on base.
Striding to the microphone, Mallick hammered home the message with some numbers.
“BlackBerry apps generate on average 40 per cent more revenue than Android apps,” Mallick told the crowd, which had come from across Ontario to hear him speak, and attend several technical seminars. The cost to attend? Not a dime.
That was a welcome change for developers like Ben Chan, who was hoping to figure out a way to shift some of his iPhone and iPad apps over to BB10 and the PlayBook tablet.
“The Apple conferences are really expensive, so I haven’t been able to go to any of them. This was free,” said Chan, showing off his latest app, designed to teach users how to use American Sign Language.
As a developer running his own one-man show, Chan says it wouldn’t be feasible to fork over hundreds or thousands of dollars. Especially, he says, given the uncertainty over RIM’s status. Some analysts have estimated the company’s share of the smart phone market could sink below five per cent this year, and RIM has hired two investment banks to help it undergo a strategic review.
“What happens six months down the road if they sell the company? If I’ve spent so long developing something and the platform isn’t there any more, it’s a waste,” said Chan.
“You don’t have to spend $10,000 to fly four people to San Francisco. They’re really making it easier,” agreed Mohammed Agha, a developer at Ottawa-based Magmic.
Bringing the conference to developers, rather than doing it the other way around makes sense for RIM, says independent tech industry analyst Kevin Dede.
“Because they’re behind the eight ball, they’re probably going to have to work a little harder, so something like this makes sense,” said Dede.
And the reason RIM and other mobile operating system owners are wooing developers? It’s no longer just about the phone, or the tablet, says Mohammed Agha, a developer at Ottawa-based Magmic. Having a rich supply of apps to lure users is crucial.
“They’re all good devices now. The difference is in what you can do with them. You need good apps,” said Agha, who helps Magmic design apps for iOS and Android as well.
Mallick agreed that apps are a crucial attraction as RIM seeks to attract new customers, and keep existing ones from migrating.
“There’s the hardware, the OS and the core services, which we control. The fourth part is what does the third-party ecosystem look like? How vibrant is it?,” said Mallick.
Despite the BlackBerry’s plunging market share, there’s still a very good reason to keep designing for it, Agha said.
“It still makes us money. It’s our most profitable platform,” said Agha.